Product Engineering // Blog

How To Hire An Engineer

It is very difficult for non-technical founders/ entrepreneurs to hire their first full-time engineer. There is an inherent disconnect between a technical and a non-technical person. While the non-technical entrepreneur is more versed than the average person about software development, their knowledge is nowhere close to the deep domain expertise of the engineer. What can non-technical entrepreneurs do to mitigate the risk involved in hiring a technical resource as a non-technical leader?

1. Job description

What do you want your engineer to build? Look up job descriptions from similar companies or roles and use those as a template to draft your own job description. Do you need more than one engineer to get the job done? If you are building a website, you could try and find a “full stack” developer. These developers should be able to build your backend infrastructure and front-end web interface. Are you building a mobile app? You are unlikely going to find an engineer who can do both the backend engineering along with being an expert in iOS or Android development. So, find dedicated resources and be weary of “full stack” mobile app developers that are currently unemployed. If they’re that great, wouldn’t they be employed?

2. Experience level

For your first engineer, you want him or her to have at least 2/3 years of professional work experience. This obviously depends upon the complexity of what you’re trying to build, but be wary of hiring your first engineer who is just as raw as you are. Coding in a full-time job is very different than an engineer who has coded on the side for a couple years. Engineers that have worked in a team will have a better understanding of development processes. Have they used tools like Pivotal or Jira? Those are modern, project management tools that, if used properly, can bring good process and structure to your development methodology.

3. The Story

It’s an engineer’s market. Software powers our world. Software developers are in extreme demand.

Make sure your intro paragraph to your job posting is appealing and enticing. This is the first impression a candidate will have of your business and good engineers aren’t easy to hire. So, polish up your story and vision for the company.

4. Posting websites

Now that you have a job description, you need to post it! There are a variety of websites that offer you a 30-day job posting for $300-500. However, the best site to use is Angellist. For paid listings, I like Stackexchange the best. Other sites include Dice, Monster, etc.

5. Referrals

Job websites aside, referrals and personal networking is, hands down, the best way to find top quality engineering talent. In every meeting you have, mention to people that you are looking to hire an engineer. The more you talk about this with people, the more referrals you’ll get. Don’t be shy! If helpful, offer to send the job description to people so they can forward it along to the potential engineer candidate. This is a soft-touch tactic where the engineer can take a first pass at your company & role before an introduction is made.

6. Initial call 

Once you get matched or introduced to engineer candidates, it’s probably best for you, the entrepreneur and CEO, to get on the phone with them. You won’t be able to vet their abilities from a technical standpoint, but you can learn about why the engineer is looking for a job, what they are interested in, etc. You should also give them the pitch for your business and make it catchy!

7. Technical Phone Screen

If the initial call goes well and there’s mutual interest, get the engineer’s resume and proceed to the next step. Before scheduling in-person interviews, you don’t want to waste either party’s time. You need to determine whether or not the engineer is technical capable of what you need them to do. Since this is your first engineering hire, you don’t have any other technical people in your company. So, you have to reach out to your network. Find one or two engineers that you trust and are friendly with. Ask them to conduct technical phone screens for you and pay them if you have to. How they do a technical screen is up to you and them. There are a lot of materials on the web about what are good questions to ask; however, these questions are going to be case specific depending upon what products you want to build and the relevant technologies.

Timing

From start to finish, assume it’ll take you two to three months to run this whole process and find the right person. You have to try a variety of different avenues to get the right engineer, but these two: job postings & networking are sure-fire ways to help you achieve that goal. Generally, I’m skeptical of recruiters and we have had very poor success rates when using external recruiters. They are expensive and don’t really understand your needs. So, first try and recruit your engineer organically, on your own before succumbing to recruiters.

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